Golfer with Rangefinder

How Are Golf Holes Measured? As The Crow Flies or Playing Route?

I was standing on the 6th tee at my local course the other day. It’s a dogleg right to left over some water and I was curious if I could drive the green. The hole was listed at 350 yards but it definitely didn’t look that long.

So, how are the yardages on your scorecard calculated? Short answer, golf holes are measured “across the ground” using the playing route that most golfers will take. For example, on a dogleg hole, the measurement is taken from the tee box to the apex of the dogleg. Then from that apex to the center of the green.

The yardages on the card are useful but surprisingly they’re often not completely accurate. Not knowing the correct figures can really affect your approach play. Read on for essential information…!

Are Golf Courses Measured in Meters or Yards?

It’s very rare for a golf course to be measured in anything other than yards. It’s a legacy of a lot of courses being decades (if not centuries!) old and pre-dating the metric system. Certainly in North American and the UK official course yardages are always marked in yards. You will find some people referring to distances in meters though – this has become increasingly popular with the advent of rangefinders and GPS devices, they let you choose the unit of measurement you prefer. These people are weird though and should be given a wide berth!

An Example – Pebble Beach

The below graphic hopefully illustrates the difference. From the tips at Pebble Beach to the centre of the green its just under 457 meters which is pretty much exactly 500 yards. Yet the official scorecard has the hole down as 543 yards. In the second image you can see that by following a route up the do leg the measurement is coming out at 480 meters (or 525 yards). This is still significantly shorter than the score card value, showing just how arbitrary some of these distances are!

The 18th at Pebble Beach…one of the most iconic finishing holes in golf

Measuring Line of Sight vs Through the Air

One of the most important questions is should you measure the distance point to point through the air or take the contour of the ground into account? Back in the day (circa early 20th century) the over the ground method was preferred. It can be more accurate if the hole has a very definite slope…I mean when you hit a drive on a hole that’s predominantly downhill the ball will travel much farther! The opposite effect occurs on an uphill hole and you often have to “club up” to make sure you can hit the ball far enough.

Effectively, if the course has been measured “over the ground” the effective yardage can be longer or shorter if the hole is particularly hilly. This might be a big factor on a par 5 where you’re going for it in two…but has almost no effect on a par 3 as you never really lay up…unless something has gone very wrong!

What Equipment Can You Use To Measure Golf Course Distances?

When golf first started the only way to know how far to you were from the hole was to “eyeball” it. That meant if you weren’t particularly good at judging distances you’d often be firing your approach shots too long or too short. Not great if you’re having a friendly wager with your playing companions!

Golfer with Rangefinder

Over time different solutions were developed…course yardage books were introduced to give players specific reference points on each hole. In fact, if you watch any gold on television you’ll still see caddies using these on most PGA/European Tour events today. Obviously this is a bit much for the casual player just out for a relaxed 18 holes on a Saturday morning so instead yardage markers were introduced. These are either a small disc embedded in the fairway or a stake to the side, typically 150 yards and 100 yards from the green. Some courses have 200 yard markers or 75 yard markers on partcularly short or long holes.

As technology has evolved though measuring devices have become more and more accurate (and considerably cheaper!) First came the laser rangefinders. These are similar to the ones you might see being used by hunters if you live in an area where that happens. They basically fire a beam of light at a target. It bounces off the target and back to the rangefiner. Based on the time taken the device can then calculate a distance to the target.

Rangefinders are extremely accurate, they’re the best way to get a measure of your distances. Many of them can identify and lock onto the pin so you know exactly how far that is too! They are probably the most expensive solution though and may not be the best thing if you’re a more casual golfer. This brings us to…

GPS devices. Over the last few years we’ve seen the rise of GPS distance finder. In fact many of these now come as apps you can download to your smartphone or as a watch you can wear on your wrist. They use the inbuilt functions of your iPhone or Android device to measure the distance from the hole. They often have handy “plays like” features as well which can take into account the slope of the terrain and prevailing weather conditions to give you club selection advice!

I’m a huge fan of these apps, I’d encourage you to check out our comparison here to see if it might suit you!

Obviously, these devices make the game a lot easier which begs the question….

Are Distance Measuring Devices Legal in Golf?

In a word: yes! In fact they’ve been legal for use in club competitions since 2006, but only where a club committee has put a local rule in place allowing it. Many clubs did not bother with this so the were effectively barred from use in many club comps. However, as of the 2019 rules update this has changed. The R&A and USGA have changed the rules to make the default stance that “distance measuring devices” are legal unless a club committee puts a rule in place explicitly barring them.

There are however, some rules you need to be aware of when you decide to use one of these, be it an app or a laser rangefinder…

You can….

  • Measure the straight line distance between two points;
  • Use a club yardage chart that’s based on shots you’ve previously hit;
  • Use it to track your score;
  • Enter shot information about the shot you’ve just played i.e. distance, club used etc;
  • Look at a general weather forecast.

You cannot…

  • Use it to measure changes in elevation (which affect distance);
  • Calculate effective distance based off those elevation changes;
  • Measure wind speed or direction;
  • Get advice on a specific line to take for you next shot.

That being said if you’re just having a casual round with your friends…all the above is perfectly ok!

What Is The Longest Hole In Professional Golf?

Good question, there are several different answers depending on how you define the question. For most pros nowadays in the vast majority of tournaments there’s nothing that would make them blink. However just occasionally the tours like to throw in a monster…

  • The Korn Ferry Tour has a 770 yard par 5 at TPC Colorado. The course is at altitude though so it plays more like 700. Easy peasy.
  • The European Challenge Tour has a 783 yard par 6 hole at Penati Golf Resort in Slovakia.
  • The longest ever PGA Tour hole was a 690 yard par 5 at Gallery Golf Club in Tuscon.
  • None of these come close to the longest golf hole in the world though – that’s at the Gunsan Country Club in South Korean, it’s a par 7 and measures in at a whopping 1,097 yards from the Championship tees!

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